Monday, January 14, 2008

Does Xie Huaan Qualify to be an Academician?

Every two years, the Chinese Academy of Science admits a new batch of Academicians, a pinnacle of personal achievements for those selected. On December 27, 2007, CAS announced its latest batch: 29 were admitted from 287 candidates.

It's the smallest number in years. CAS has a ceiling of 60. During the years of 2001, 2003, and 2005, CAS had admitted totals of 56, 58, and 51, respectively. This year's 29 is a very substantial drop-off. Either the CAS is tightening its standards, or the remaining talent pool is shrinking in an alarming rate, or both.

Nevertheless, in today's atmosphere of China's academy, it did not take long for these new Academicians to become targets of fraud-busting at New Thread. The first name to be reported is Xie Huaan (谢华安).

Xie gained the honor on the strength of his cultivating and popularizing a new kind of hybrid rice. His achievement here is not in dispute. But was it enough for him to become a CAS Academician?

A few years ago, the pioneer of China's hybrid rice research, Yuan Longping (袁隆平), who had far bigger achievements than Xie had tried and failed to gain a CAS Academician after several tries. The argument was that such research was more of a technological breakthrough, rather than scientific one. So, Yuan settled with an Academician position of the Chinese Academy of Engineering instead, a position that is regarded as far less prestigious and lower standard. There are also other such examples of candidates who had failed at CAS and settled in with the CAE.

However, Xie Huaan was the first person who had gone the opposite route. He had failed to gain an Academician position within the CAE for several years and turned in his application to CAS this time. And he made it in one-shot.

Well, that by itself is not such a big deal. Maybe the CAS saw something in Xie the CAE did not see. But much more damaging for Xie is that, he is reported as a plagiarist.

Although successfully innovated his kind of hybrid rice, Xie does not have a lot of publications of his own. Perhaps realizing his shortcomings, Xie published a journal article and a book recently. The problem is that the article was a summary of three papers published by others. According to Fang Zhouzi, who had looked at the papers, Xie's article "is not even a review, but only a studying notes" of others' work. In the article, Xie included data and materials from the original papers but never cited his sources.

"It's an obvious case of plagiarism" said Fang Zhouzi.

What about the book? It turns out the book was the work of a team of people who had worked for Xie. They wrote up the book as a collective effort, only to see it published with Xie as the sole author.

The real puzzle is that, before CAS made its decision, Xie's fraud has been duly reported to CAS. CAS claimed that it had conducted its investigations (but did not bother to publish its findings). Somehow, Xie Huaan was still elected as an Academician.

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